“Col. Howard, through his group, at once involved the adversary and himself destroyed a Gerguy ME. 110. As a result of this strike Col. Howard shed contact through his group, and also at once went back to the level of the bomber development. He then experienced that the bombers were being greatly attacked by opponent airplanes and also that no various other friendly fighters were at hand. While Col. Howard might have actually waited to attempt to assemble his team before engaging the foe, he determined instead to strike single-handed a formation of more than 30 Gerguy airplanes. With utter disregard for his own safety and security he immediately pressed home figured out assaults for some 30 minutes, throughout which time he ruined 3 opponent airplanes and probably destroyed and damaged others. Toward the finish of this engagement 3 of his guns went out of activity and also his fuel supply was becoming dangerously low.”

So check out the citation for an award of the Congressional Medal of Honor for Col James H. Howard, USAAF, of the 354th Fighter Group, known as the Pioneer Mustang Group, for his action today in aviation history, on January 11, 1944, near Oschersleben, Germany type of. Col. Howard’s feat that day was one of braexceptionally and too much ability — surprisingly, it was not the initially time he engaged such numbers on his own….

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USAAF Portrait of Col. James H. Howard.

From the rcfereform.orging Tigers to Europe

Col. Howard did not start his armed forces organization in the Military Air Corps, but fairly in the US Navy. He was a Naval fighter pilot, holding the rank of Ensign and rcfereform.orging the Grumguy F3F-2 biaircraft off the decks of the aircraft carrier, USS Enterpincrease. With Japan’s invasion of China, Howard wanted to gain right into the fight versus the Axis powers. Hence, he resigned from the US Navy to join through Claire Chennault’s Amerideserve to Volunteer Group (AVG) — known famously as the “rcfereform.orging Tigers”.

This wasn’t his initially time in the Far East, however. In fact, James Howard was a fluent speaker of Chinese. He had spent his childhood in China while his father offered on an exadjust program as an eye surgeon. Having joined the rcfereform.orging Tigers, he shipped out to Burma. It wasn’t lengthy prior to he was rcfereform.orging the P-40 Tomahawk in combat against the Japanese.


Ensign James Howard, US Naval fighter pilot on the USS Enterpclimb, c. 1939.

By the finish of his time in the AVG, he flew 56 missions and served as the squadron commander of the “Panda Bears” — the AVG’s 2nd Pursuit Squadron. He swarm down six Japanese aircraft and also therefore became an ace. In one engagement, witnessed by another Amerideserve to pilot, Howard had encountered maybe 18 to 20 Japanese fighter planes. He had actually dove on them and also engaged the whole force alone — unsupported. The various other Amerihave the right to pilot witnessing the engagement can not connect and also was heading home — looking back, he didn’t intend Howard to make it through. Instead, Howard twisted and turned via the gaggle of foe planes, shooting once he could. It was an extraordinary feat — and one that can not be officially known by the US Army because the AVG (rcfereform.orging Tigers) were a hired mercenary air pressure, not an main military unit. At the time, months prior to the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, America was still a neutral nation.


rcfereform.orging Tiger Ace, James Howard poses in front of the tail of an AVG Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk.

After America gotten in the battle, the US Army stepped in and also disbanded the rcfereform.orging Tigers. The pilots were offered an ultimatum — they might either sign up with the US Military and rcfereform.org or they could be tried for fighting awide as mercenaries. James Howard accepted “the offer” and also was assigned right into the US Military Air Corps and provided the rank of captain. He was went back to the United States to assist form a brand-new Fighter Group.

His assignment wregarding be a component of the nine Air Force, and also to help develop the 354th Fighter Group (well-known as the Pioneer Mustang Group). The 35fourth FG was the first unit to be equipped via the revolutionary new airplane that was designed by North American Aviation on contract through the US Government. The airplane was the P-51B Mustang. Hence, the 35fourth FG took its name from the kind of aircraft that it would first take into combat.

With such substantial combat experience, Captain Howard was soon advocated to the rank of Major. He came to be the new squadron commander of among the squadrons that comprised the new fighter group — the 35sixth Fighter Squadron of the 35fourth Fighter Group.

With training finimelted, the unit was shipped overseas to base out of Boxted Airarea in England. From tright here, it started rcfereform.orging missions against Gerguy forces occupying France. With the deployment of various other Fighter Groups equipped through the P-51 Mustang for bomber escort as component of the 8th Air Force, the 354th FG was inserted under the authority of the 8th Air Force, even if it stayed component of the ninth. The mission of the 8th Air Force involved escorting hefty bombers on missions over populated Europe.

Maj. Howard flew his P-51B Mustang (AJ-A) through his six kills noted on the side — each one a Japanese flag. He would shortly add a row of kill markers for Luftwaffe aircraft. On the nose was painted a expression he had actually picked up while rcfereform.orging with the rcfereform.orging Tigers — “Ding Hao!” — fittingly, it about translates as “Top Good” or “The Best”.


Arguably one of the the majority of renowned airplanes that dealt with in the European Theater, Col. James H. Howard’s North American P-51B Mustang “Ding Hao!”

The One Man Air Force

January 11, 1944, was a fateful day in Col. Howard’s career in combat. That morning, he took off from Boxted to lead the 35fourth FG on a bomber escort mission over Germany kind of. The bombers struck Oschersleben and Halberstadt, 2 cities that were around 100 miles southwest of Berlin. On the method to the taracquire, the pimany 35fourth FG engaged the Luftwaffe and in the fray, Col. Howard downed an Me 110 twin-engine hefty fighter as it headed toward the bombers. Then, an Me 109 flew across his nose and he damaged it before turning to watch another Gerguy fighter, an Fw 190, which he sought. Moments later on, he was stunned to see the Germale pilot ssuggest bail out of the aircraft — without a swarm being fired. He broke off and climbed for altitude.

Looking about, he all of a sudden discovered himself alone in the skies. He was separated much from his group and also had actually lost his wingmale in the fight. When planes rcfereform.org at thousands of miles an hour, it doesn’t take yet secs for them to rcfereform.org past visual variety from one one more. As he took a course deeper in Germany towards the target area, he spotted among the bomb teams coming off the targain. This was the 401st Bomb Group (Heavy), rcfereform.orging B-17 rcfereform.orging Fortresses. Howard might watch that it had actually taken damages from flak over the target. As well, it had actually weathered attacks from Luftwaffe fighter planes on the method in. Now, having actually dropped its bombs, the 401st BG was heading house — and, as was meant on all such missions at the moment, they knew that they would need to run the gauntlet of even more Luftwaffe fighter strikes as they flew ago toward England also.

Howard joined up with the bombers, rcfereform.orging in slowly so that they might see that his plane was an Amerihave the right to fighter. Experience had actually taught him that if you closed fast, the gunners that were in the B-17s can open fire, not taking time to acknowledge the closing airplane as an Amerideserve to coming to help.

Shortly afterward joining through the bomb team, Howard spotted about 30 German fighter planes ahead. They were orbiting developing up much ahead of the bombers. Clbeforehand, the trap was being collection. Tbelow was nopoint the bombers can do in such a huge and also sluggish formation yet rcfereform.org on straight toward the Luftwaffe planes as they formed up for a coordinated, damaging assault.

In similar encounters in the recent previous, other Amerihave the right to bomb groups had been decimated. One example was the 100th Bomb Group, which had actually been butchered by the Luftwaffe throughout its mission to Munster. On that day, simply one bomber changed house, the B-17 “Rosie’s Riveters”. As the aircraft commander, Lt. Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal later on renoted, “The Luftwaffe swept via our team and swarm dvery own eincredibly plane in the group other than our plane…. We had 2 sevecount wounded waist gunners, we had a rocket hole with the wing. Two engines were knocked out. And we visited the taracquire alone and also dropped our bombs…”.

A equivalent experience have to have concerned the 401st Bomb Group that day, other than that Col. Howard was tright here, rcfereform.orging alone in his P-51B Mustang “Ding Hao!”


The B-17G “Sad Sack” of the 612th Bomb Squadron, 40first Bomb Group after sliding to a soptimal with damaged landing gear at Deenethorpe (Station 128) on February 11,1944.

A Legendary Air Battle

The bomber crews watched in amazement as Col. Howard pumelted the throttle forward and also sped ahead alone towards the enemy formation. They thought that it a hopeless gesture — one against perhaps 40, yet one that they recognized for its bravery.

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Col. Howard, yet, didn’t watch it as a shed cause. Like many fighter pilots of his generation, he didn’t shy away from combat. He kbrand-new also that the Germans would certainly be so countless that anything he witnessed in the sky would certainly be a target. For the Germans, yet, he was a lone aircraft, one that could conveniently end up being lost in the confusing mix of planes as they swirled about in the skies. Wbelow he might shoot at everyone, they would certainly need to be certain that the plane they had actually in their gunsights wasn’t one of their very own.

Howard’s goal was to hit the adversary hard and also fast. He planed on making diving passes with their formation to break them up into a disorganized gaggle. It wouldn’t be about shooting down as many kind of as he could, but quite causing them to emphasis on him rather of the bombers. If he did it best, the Luftwaffe fighters can not acquire themselves arranged and also into a proper development to attack the bombers en masse.

In his initially pass, he blazed with the German development and hammered an Me 110 through his weapons. The aircraft damaged ameans, damaged and trailing smoke. Then he pulled about to pick an additional tarobtain for a 2nd pass. As he craned his head around to watch the Germany type of formation, he could view that they were scattered, each airplane having actually turned away in various directions from his strike. A few of the Germans, but, weren’t focused on reforming their pressure to target the bombers — they kbrand-new that if they did simply that, he would sindicate come with them a second time and also scatter them when aget. A few were already warm on his trail.

An Messerschmitt Bf 109 was coming in on Howard from behind. Making a large turn, he flew earlier previous the bombers and involved the 109 directly. It dove away in a turn and he reduced the edge. He dove dvery own on it, hammering it via gunfire till it too was trailing thick smoke.

Pulling back upward in a zoom climb from the speed of his dive, he encountered and also drove off yet another Me 109. This time he was firing his weapons while in a tight, high-G revolve. It turned ameans and also fled. Rather than offer chase, Howard maintained his mission goals in mind. Instead he returned to the 401st Bomb Group, wright here he crisscrossed over the development, breaking off whenever before foe planes were forming up to attack. Each time, he drove them amethod as they scattered in the challenge of his attack.


An Me 110 assaults a trip of B-17G rcfereform.orging Fortresses, c. 1944.

The next major threat he faced came from a Junkers Ju 88. Such airplanes were frequently equipped through lengthy selection rockets. These were fired right into formations of bombers from well outside of gun range. It would certainly take a lot to shoot dvery own a Ju 88.

Col. Howard’s P-51, but, also if undamaged, experienced problems. All however one of his own machine firearms had actually jammed in the last attack as soon as he had actually fired from a tight, high-G rotate. This was a difficulty that the Pioneer Mustang Group ha seen prior to. The Group’s armorers were functioning difficult on a solution earlier at Boxted, however had actually yet to complete their work. Essentially, the guns would certainly jam as soon as the aircraft fired from pulling tight turns because the ammunition in the feed chutes would certainly lock up at the allude that the feed chute curved right into the side of the gun.

With yet one gun continuing to be of the eight on his aircraft, and with little bit ammunition left in any case, Col. Howard recognized that he couldn’t probably shoot the bomber dvery own. However, he additionally kbrand-new that the Luftwaffe pilot didn’t know that. Thus, Col. Howard struck anyway. He set upon the Ju 88 as if it was his first targain of the day. The Gerguy pilot turned away and Howard curved ago to rcfereform.org aobtain over the optimal of the bomb team.

He watched as the Ju 88 pilot curved earlier approximately and also started to line up aobtain to fire its rockets. Again, Howard turned toward it for one more strike. Once aget, he drove it off, just to uncover it circling carefully back at too much variety. This occurred several times and in in between passes, Howard would rcfereform.org ago and also forth over the bombers and break up Germale formations that were assembling to the sides and also ahead as the Luftwaffe again and aget, prepared its attack versus the bombers.

Eventually, Col. Howard’s engagement with the Luftwaffe that day lasted 30 minutes. The bomber crews of the 401st BG later sassist that he had dealt with off “the whole Luftwaffe” single handed. Not among the 401st BG’s B-17s fell that day to German fighters because of Col. Howard’s heroic action. He had actually saved many lives.


James H. Howard in the cockpit of his P-51B Mustang, “Ding Hao!” (AJ-A) — note the six Japanese and also six Nazi kills marked on the side of the fuselage.


When Col. Howard went back to Boxted, one of the armorers in the fighter group, TSgt George Van Hare, jumped up on his wing. Seeing that the guns had actually been fired, he waved to ask if he had swarm any type of dvery own. Col. Howard hosted up two fingers, then three, shaking them as if to say, “maybe 2 or three.” His gun video camera film would certainly be sent out to the intelligence branch.

The police officers would certainly officially credit him via 4 based upon the movies. When the 401st Bomb Group landed, 16 of their crews reported the story of the lone P-51 pilot that had actually saved the whole team. It took awhile for the 8th AF to identify the pilot as Col. Howard, that was characteristically quiet and also humble around the matter.

A Special Kind of Fighter Pilot

As Jack Ilfrey, an additional USAAF fighter pilot (8 victories WWII) when sassist, “Maybe one out of ten great fighter pilots will be among the hunters.” James Howard was among the hunters. He was a experienced pilot and also a deadly tactician. As well, he was a organic leader.

For his bravery that day close to Oschersleben, deffinishing the 401st Bomb Group against over 30 Luftwaffe fighter pilots for 30 minutes alone, Col. Howard would certainly be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal, the highest possible award in the US Military, was pinned on by Gen. Spaatz himself. The award of the MoH to Col. Howard was the only such medal offered to a fighter pilot in the entire European Theater in World War II. For Col. Howard, that would certainly later on go on to lead the entire Pioneer Mustang Group, it was certainly deoffered.

A renowned quote from Col. Howard perfectly sums up his life as a fighter pilot. In a moment of self-reflection, he commented, “He that rides a tiger cannot dismount.” That was Col. Howard’s preferred profession, to ride a fighter plane and rcfereform.org it in combat — even if it intended taking the greatest risks.


A repertoire of the aces of the 354th Fighter Group, 1945.

One More Bit of Aviation History

The 35fourth Fighter Group is the peak scoring fighter team of the ETO. Others make claim that the 5sixth or fourth FGs of the 8th Air Force were actually the top scoring groups — however that is not quite correct. Those 2 teams were the top scorers in the 8th Air Force. As for the 354th FG, being part of the 9th Air Force supposed that they simply didn’t have the exact same push coverage. What is even more exciting is that the 35fourth FG scored so many kind of kills in such a time frame — for some of its last year in the battle, the 35fourth FG was assigned back into the 9th Air Force and strictly flew ground assault objectives. For a time, they were equipped via the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt. Thus, they scored even more kills in a much shorter amount time than either the 4th or the 5sixth.

Today’s Aviation Trithrough Question

How many type of aircraft did the fourth, 56th and also 354th Fighter Groups each ruin — both in the air and on the ground?